Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Teruma (Exodus 25:1-27:19) Intent

This week’s Torah portion deals with the commandment to build a Tabernacle in the wilderness. We encounter a textual difficulty in the first two verses:
G-d spoke to Moses saying, “Take for Me a portion from everyone whose heart motivates him, you shall take my portion.” (25:1-2)

A literal translation of the verse would read they shall take a portion to Me. The commentators point out that the Hebrew “li,” which usually means ‘to me,’ cannot be translated as such here because G-d possesses everything; you can’t give Him something He already owns. “Take for Me” is the condition that the donations must be given in G-d’s Name; anything else is disqualified.

Why is it so important for the donations to be in G-d’s name? When G-d says Make me a house it obviously does not mean to build Him a shelter because He is homeless and therefore we need to make a collection for Him. He doesn’t need anything. The only thing we can ever give Him is to allow Him to give to us. Donations weren’t given to G-d, they were given for Him; in His honor.

Intention is one of the central ideas in Jewish consciousness and have ramifications in our daily lives. If we hear about a woman who wants to ensure that every child in the city has access to whole milk for breakfast. Rain or shine she brings fresh milk to countless families. What would we say about her? We might count her among the righteous people in the city and say she exudes kindness. However, our opinion would change if we discovered that she delivered the milk only because she was using it as a vehicle to build her recently launched food vending business. There is nothing terrible or immoral about that but we would no longer view her as an exceptional person, rather as simply another entrepreneur trying to start a business.

One’s intentions create a reality because a person’s focus is what defines him or her. Life is not only a series of us being confronted with free will choices of right vs. wrong, but also what our intent is in doing those actions-even the good ones. Your intent will affect your behavior and what you have the ability to do. If one’s intent is to help someone, they will judge the person favorably. For example, when a father takes his daughter out to dinner, she understands that he loves her and wants to spend time with him and her conduct throughout the evening will reflect that understanding. However, if during her summer internship, a male coworker, the one she feels uncomfortable around, invites her to the same restaurant, she will understand that he has other intentions and will most likely turn down his invitation.
This idea is especially applicable in marriage. We react to a spouse based on how we perceive his or her intent but many times we are the ones at fault due to our own intentions, which are based on self-interest. If a husband does not feel like helping, having a conversation, or watching the kids, then his intent is to protecting his space. Therefore, he will interpret a request for help as “you are trying to dominate me” or “you are trying to make me feel guilty” or “you don’t understand my needs.” His judgment has affected his intent.

The way you think of others will ultimately determine whether you speak to them with respect or disdain and will affect how you view what they have done to you in a more accurate way. The way one thinks about a spouse will make a difference between a good marriage and an awful one. So many conflicts do not have to do with what is going on but rather a mindset-intent. When your mindset is critical, everything is seen in a critical light. However, one whose intent is to have a safe and loving relationship will see the damage of this thinking and will realize that he or she needs to learn to interpret things in a positive light, which, in most cases, is more realistic. When you appreciate how the human being works, most people mean well, even if many of them are a bit messed up. They might have their problems but most of the people you are close to are not out to get you. When we keep finding fault, we are the ones who need to reconsider. We need to change our thoughts because thoughts create realities.

Intent ultimately determined whether or not a contribution would be accepted for building the Mishkan, Tabernacle, built by the Jews in the desert. Just as we need intent when building an earthy place for G-d to dwell, so too we must be careful about our intent when building the relationships in our life. Your intent will determine not only how you think, but more importantly how you will live your life.

(Sources: Ohr Yoel quoted in Growth Through Torah; Rav Yitzchak Berkowitz, Terumah 5763)